Interview: Soichi Noguchi
STS-114 Crew Interview with Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist
have a job that a lot of kids dream about having. Is being an astronaut
what you always wanted to do?
This is what
I wanted to do for long time, and I’m very happy to be here.
I really feel honored to be assigned as a Return to Flight crew.
What is it that you did, in terms of your education and,
and your career, that got you qualified to be an astronaut?
Well, I liked
airplanes; I liked rockets. So I studied aeronautic science at university.
Besides that I was a Boy Scout, and believe it or not Boy Scout
is good training to become an astronaut. I learned team play, I
learned to interact with nature, and those things are very actually
important to be an astronaut.
was it that got you interested in rocketry?
Well, it was
just fun thing to see. When I was a high school student I saw the
first launch of Space Shuttle, the Columbia, and I was very fascinated
by the sight.
there one person that you could look at and say, that’s the
person who was most key to your becoming an astronaut; someone who
was your inspiration or your hero?
my father is my hero. He was engineer, and he was a good educator,
and he taught me a lot about science and also how to interact with
nature and other, other folks. He’s my hero.
are your other interests and hobbies? I mean, what do you do when
you’re not being an astronaut?
I play with
my kids. They have all the hobbies, so I just play with them.
back, several years now for you -- tell me what it was like when
you got the phone call that told you, you were going to make your
It was April
2001, so it’s almost four years ago. I got a phone call from
Charlie Precourt. He was chief of Astronaut Office at that time.
It was really a blast. I was waiting for that call for four years
and learning that I would be flying finally, and going to International
Space Station, and possibly do the EVA, that was, that was priceless.
you get excited, jump up and down?
Oh, yeah, right,
and I had a toast with my wife that night. It was very nice.
since the loss of Columbia and its crew, we all assume that astronauts
understand the risks of spaceflight and, and accept them. Can you
tell me why you feel this job is worth the risk that you’re
I think the
return is really enormous. What we are doing now with the Return
to Flight is ensure that we have a great access to space, which
enhances our lives for sure. The risk is, is there, but the return
is still enormous.
me how you feel that that’s enhancing our lives?
You know that
will make our communication easier throughout the world, and also
the science that will bring us a new technology, new science results,
will be very useful for our future.
one thing for you to accept the risk of the job you do. How does
your family handle the risks that you’re taking?
tried to be honest and talk about what we’re doing, what we’re
doing to prevent an accident, and also I will talk about the benefits
and hopefully they understand that those benefit will be very important
for their future.
know, along with the risks of flight your job requires that you
spend a lot of time training in preparation for, for this flight;
that’s time that you could be spending with your family or
doing other things. For you, what is it that provides you the motivation
to make that sacrifice?
Time away from
my family is one of the big drawback being assigned to the flight.
But again, we talk about what I’m doing as an astronaut to
train for this mission and hopefully that will be motivation as
well to my family, my wife and kids, so that they feel that they
are part of the big team for this Return to Flight.
been more than two years since Columbia and its crew were lost.
Soichi, what was it like for you, as an astronaut, to deal with
the fact that an accident had cost the lives of seven of your colleagues
We were saddened
by the loss of Columbia and seven friends. We were very devastated
at that time. But we are prime crew and we have to fly the Shuttle
again, and we have to prove to world that we can learn from the
past accident, past mistakes, and still make space development continue.
So we were devastated, but we’re trying to overcome and make
the Shuttle fly again.
you think about those seven men and women today, what are your best
memories of them?
they’re all good friends. And, actually three of them are
my classmates. We shared good moments and we shared tough moments.
As you know, the Pilot, Willie McCool, was good friend of mine,
and we play basketball together many times at the gym. When we meet
his son after the accident we remember playing at the gym when he
was still high school student. Now he’s grown up to be a university
student, but we talked about it and playing basketball. It’s
a good memory.
have you and your crewmates talked about honoring the memory of
the Columbia crew and honoring their spirit while you’re flying
talked about it and we’ll probably have a moment to honor
their spirits, their courage, and their achievement during our mission.
Columbia Accident Investigation Board pinpointed the physical causes
of the loss of Columbia and pointed out some mechanical fixes to
make flying Shuttles safer. From your point of view, assess for
me the improvements that have been made to eliminate launch debris,
and then to detect and repair the damage to the orbiter while it’s
After we received
the final report from the CAIB, and we take those recommendations
as gold standard. Since then there have been a lot of major improvement
in the Space Shuttle. Obviously the most important improvement is
the external tank. The tank was shipped to Kennedy Space Center
early this month and we are certain that this new tanks will prevent
the, the foam from falling off during ascent. That’s the main
improvement over the last two years. And the other side of the improvement
is to make sure we can detect any falling object from the tank or
anything during ascent. We have a lot of ground cameras. We have
also radars and also on-board cameras to watch out for those debris.
And for the last resort if we found any damage to the orbiter we
have ways to repair and also we can evacuate to Station for a short
period of time, waiting for the rescue vehicle. But the bottom line
is we are confident that the fixes on external tank will prevent
the, the damage caused by the falling foams, just like the Columbia.
know, there are thousands of people, literally, across the country
who have been working for more than two years now to make a safe
Return to Flight possible. What are your thoughts about the contributions
and the efforts of all of those people?
We really appreciate
all the sincere effort by the, the workers and technicians all over
the country. We made a lot of visit to Michoud and we are very happy
to see they are highly motivated to fix the tank, and I think those
effort really pay off.
me what it’s meant for you when you’ve gotten the chance
to visit at Michoud or other, the NASA Centers around the country
and talk to other members of the Return to Flight team.
They are really
nice guys. They are highly motivated, and it’s really nice
to see that all the folks are working together to make this Return
to Flight successful. Actually, we are encouraged to continue by
watching those people work. So it’s really nice to see them
work and to talk directly with them.
mentioned a moment ago about the repair procedures, which you’re
going to have a hand in testing on this flight. The repair procedures
that came out as a result of the CAIB recommendations, those procedures
are still being fine-tuned and some of them are still being developed.
But the Shuttle program is confident in returning to flight even
while those procedures are still being tested and still being certified.
Are you comfortable with that position?
I am comfortable.
As an EVA crewmember I have realized that a lot of attention is
going to the EVA repair capabilities of damage to the Thermal Protection
System, but I think the fixes on the external tank are really promising,
so I don’t expect any, to see any the big foam falling off
the tank like, like Columbia did. So that is the bottom line of
the recommendation of the, of the CAIB Report. So, I’m happy
to see those improvements.
the physical causes of the accident, the Board also cited organizational
and human factors within NASA that are bearing some of the responsibility
for the loss of Columbia, too— the management system and the
safety culture. Do you see a change for the better in those areas
in the past two years?
see the change. Of course no organization is 100 percent perfect,
and it’s a continuing process. We will have a new administrator,
and we are changing our organization and the culture definitely
changes. We had a long talk with the flight director and they are
listening to us, and also we are listening to all the technicians
or the engineers. And the communication is really a key to the success
of changing the culture.
is called LF-1. What does LF-1 mean? What are the goals of this
flight, and what are your primary jobs?
LF-1 is Logistics
Flight, and we’re going to bring logistics support to the
International Space Station. Since the International Space Station
has been operating for five years with a, a resident crew, there’s
a vast need to supply the foods and clothing and new equipment.
So in the assembly sequence there are a couple of flights dedicated
to the logistics support, and we are the one of the flights. We
have an MPLM, a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, in the cargo bay,
bringing a lot of supplies to the Station. So that will be the main
goal. Also this is a Return to Flight, so we have a couple of added
tasks to demonstrate our capability to detect possible damage and
also possible demonstration of a repair capability of the Thermal
Protection System. My main job is lead EVA, and I will conduct three
spacewalks along with my EVA crewmate, Steve Robinson.
you, you’re also the second Japanese astronaut to go to the
International Space Station. Can you give me a sense of the importance
and the excitement that your flight has generated within the Japanese
space agency and the Japanese people?
You are right.
I will be the second Japanese to visit ISS. Koichi Wakata visited
the ISS in STS-92, and he created a lot of interest amongst the
Japanese folks about the space development, also International Space
Station. Hopefully, all the Japanese will have the same level of
excitement as they had five years ago.
International Space Station has been kept supplied using Russian
launch vehicles for the last two years, but the comparatively small
cargo capacity of Progress and Soyuz have posed some challenges.
Is the Return to Flight of the Shuttle and its larger cargo capacity
critical to the future of the Station?
I think it
is very critical to bring Station back to the normal pace of operation.
Right now the Station is operated by two crewmembers versus three
crewmembers before the Columbia accident. So we’re trying
to bring a lot of supplies and also do some key maintenance to the
Space Station so that the Space Station can go back to the nominal
three-person operating scheme.
we walk through your flight from the beginning ... in the first
hours of the flight you’re going to be confirming some aspects
of the redesign of this external tank. Talk about what’s involved
in getting the data to the ground from the wing leading edge sensors
and from the cameras that are going to be both inside and outside
of the crew compartment.
we get into orbit, it’s actually at just two minutes after
the main engine cutoff, my first job starts. That is to film the
external tank right after separation from the Space Shuttle, and
we will use the camcorder and also digital still photography to
film the external tank, to make sure no huge debris are falling
off, or huge parts are missing in the tank. That’s the first
job right after we get into orbit.
this is different from the way it’s been done before?
a new procedure. Before we took pictures about five minutes after
the separation and by that time, the tank is fairly far away from
the orbiter. This time we take pictures only two minutes after separation
so that the distance between the tank and orbiter is much closer
than it used to be. We can take a much more detailed photography
of the foam and other parts on the external tank.
how do you get that data down to the engineers on the ground?
They are all
waiting for those images. We will downlink digital photos through
the PGSC, the, the laptop computers, and we downlink the camcorder
video through the digital downlink, which is also fairly new, so
that the ground folks can start analyzing the, the imagery. And
also we also will downlink the wing leading edge sensor, which is
kind of a motion detector on the leading edge of the wing, and that
will also be downlinked by the laptop computer.
going to also be the first crew to perform another new task on Shuttle
missions. In this one, you’re going to be inspecting the exterior
of the orbiter for damage from any launch debris. First, would you
describe for us the new Orbiter Boom Sensor System, and talk about
how it’s designed to learn whether or not the Shuttle’s
Thermal Protection System has been damaged.
We have a new
extension boom, on the starboard side of the orbiter. And that boom
has a couple of sensors on the tip, and our crew, Jim Kelly, Andy
Thomas, and Charlie Camarda, are the arm operator for the inspection
boom. They will grab the new extension boom with the Space Shuttle
robotic arm, and the sensor will basically scan the surface, back
surface, of the orbiter and the wings’ leading edge, to make
sure there is no critical-size damage. That will take almost a full
day on Flight Day 2, which is right after we go to orbit and wake
up and we start the survey of the orbiter.
Is the survey from the boom a simply a visual one?
It is actually
a laser scan. We’re using those two specially designed pieces
of equipment at the end of the boom, and we also have a camera just
in case those new equipment fails, and there’s a couple of
backup method to make sure we have an inspection complete before
we actually dock to the International Space Station.
inspection on Flight Day 2 is going to take quite literally all
day long; some people might even call it tedious. What’s the
plan to ensure that there is going to be at least one set of sharp
eyes on duty all the time while you’re working at that for
so many hours?
actually a very long procedure and long day, but we’re now
training to make sure we don’t make any mistakes during the
survey. We have three excellent arm operators on board, and I’m
pretty sure we will not make any critical mistakes and that the
ground folks will be happy to see the good survey at the end of
Flight Day 2.
next step in the inspection comes during the final phase of your
docking to the Space Station itself. Tell us about the plan to inspect
the upper surfaces of the orbiter and, and then later how you’re
going to flip the orbiter around to give the Station’s cameras
a good view of the bottom of Discovery.
This is also
a new procedure in the rendezvous profile. We will be basically
stop at about 600 feet below the Space Station, and the Space Station
crew will take photos out their window from the Service Module.
We will basically flip the orbiter so that we can show the top surface
and bottom surface of the orbiter. And the Space Station crew, using
a long lens, will basically map the surface of the tiles, and also
they are downlink the images to the ground folks who do the imagery
analysis make sure there’s no the big damage to the tile.
So that will be a new procedure as well.
must be something to think about being on hand, then, when after
the docking occurs and you’ll be there for the first time
the hatches are opened between the Shuttle and the Station again.
looking forward to that moment, after those inspections and the
flip maneuver. And still we have a lot of exciting tasks ahead of
for starters, there’s cargo on the Shuttle’s middeck
that’s going to get transferred almost immediately after you
folks arrive. What is it that’s so important that it gets
moved over onto the Station right away?
are a couple of critical spares that should be brought to the Station.
But from my point of view we have to bring the two EVA suits to
the Station side, because they are Station suits are basically out
of life, expired, so we’re going to bring the two new spacesuit
to the Space Station.
Next day, after the docking, the schedule calls for the
installation of the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, that you mentioned
earlier, onto Unity. Describe that operation and, and what part
you’re going to play that day.
The MPLM, the
Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, is stowed in the cargo bay. Wendy
Lawrence and Jim Kelly will be the arm operators that day. They
will move to the Space Station, they will manipulate Space Station
arm, grab the MPLM and attach it to the nadir side of the Unity
module. My job is operate the CBM, that’s the common berthing
mechanism, the attachment device of the modules. So I will coordinate
the move with Jim Kelly and Wendy, and once they move the MPLM close
to the port nadir side of the CBM, I will start operating the latches
and the bolts to connect those two modules.
the MPLM is installed there are still some other robot arm operations
scheduled that day to prepare for a later inspection of the Thermal
Protection System on the Shuttle. Describe for us what’s being
there might be a call from ground to inspect a certain area of the
orbiter based on the findings of the first two days’ inspection,
Flight Day 2 and Flight Day 3. The arm operators will be asked to
move the inspection boom on the certain point on the orbiter --
for instance, on the back side of the orbiter or the certain point
on the leading edge. So using the Space Station arm, they will grab
the boom and move off the Space Station arm, to the Shuttle arm,
so that they are ready to perform the inspection if they are asked
to do that.
big part of your training for the past two years has been focusing
on the EVA techniques for repairing damage to the Space Shuttle,
which is something that was called for in the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board report. How involved have you and your crewmates
been in the development of the techniques that you will then be
using on orbit?
and I were heavily involved in the development of these repair techniques:
tiles, RCCs, and also a couple of inspection, backup inspection
method using the SAFER backpack and also digital photography. And
right now we are still refining the final process of the repair
and the demonstration of the repair capability. But we are happy
to do any kind of a task that we finally called upon.
a lot of your work has been involved in the development of that
technique as well?
right. I would say this is part of still in the process of development.
We probably will have some kind of a test samples in the cargo bay,
and we will demonstrate the possible repair techniques on the first
let’s talk about that and, accepting the fact that exactly
what might happen by the time you get there could be different,
as it’s understood right now describe the procedures for the
Detailed Test Objective that you and Steve will do on the first
On the first
EVA, first spacewalks will be mainly dedicated to demonstration
of the repair techniques. Steve and I will move to the cargo bay,
the very back portion of the cargo bay, and there is a special box
dedicated to this demonstration. It’s about 4 feet by 3 feet.
We will open this big box, and inside the box there are tiles with
simulated damage and possibly RCC, the leading edge panel. We will
be performing the repair using a special repair equipment. And what
we like to do is shoot the goo into the grooved area of the tile
and see how it cures and how we can operate the equipment under
the zero g and other vacuum environment. And once we come back to
ground then engineers will put them onto the arc jet test facility
to make sure they will withstand entry profile.
Now let me ask you to describe a little, some of the technical
language that you used for us, starting with “goo.”
What is the material like? What is it designed to try to do?
is called STA-54, which is basically like a caulking gun. It’s
really like a foam, and it will cure up within 24 hours, and withstand
the heat of re-entry. And it’s supposed to be easy to manipulate
and once it’s cured up there will heat resistant, also will
support some kind of structural support onto the, the tile as well.
it easy to manipulate? Has it, has it proved to do that?
it’s getting better. And we still have a couple of months
to go, so by the time we fly, we have a much better results.
you’re planning, both of you, to, to take turns at, at simulating
these repairs, right?
probably one person will do the shooting the goo, other person will
reshape the goo on the tile.
There are three spacewalks planned for this mission. The
goal of the second one is to replace a Control Moment Gyroscope
in the Station’s Z1 module. Tell me what a CMG does, and why
one needs to be replaced.
CMG is Control
Moment Gyro. It actually controls the Space Station’s attitude.
Now there are four CMGs on the Space Station, and one of them failed
about three years ago. And that was actually an added task to our
mission prior to Columbia. We have trained to do this repair for
almost three years. And we will bring the new unit in the cargo
bay, and we will install the new unit into the Station, bring home
the failed unit so that the ground folks can analyze what happened
on the failed unit.
this is a large piece of equipment, and it’s located fairly
far away, so tell me about the choreography that’s involved
to carry out the exchange.
start from the Station side. Its four CMGs are located on the back
side, aft side, of the Z1 truss, which is right over the Unity module.
Steve and I will translate to the work site, and actually I will
be on the arm, Station arm. Steve Robinson will help me remove the
failed unit, failed CMG. It weighs about 600 pounds. I will hold
with my hands, and the Station arm will move me from the back side
of the Z1 truss to the Shuttle cargo bay. And then Steve will just
translate to the cargo bay, we will temp stow the failed unit and
get the new unit from the support equipment and then make a return
trip back to the Z1 truss. We’ll install the new unit and
we will clean up the, the work site, and that’s almost a seven-hour
There’s a third EVA on the plans that’s centered
around installing what’s called the External Stowage Platform.
What is that piece of equipment for? It’s got equipment on
it, too, right?
right. ESP-2 is External Stowage Platform No. 2. It has a couple
of critical spares on it like the main bus switching unit. There’s
also a pump module and a couple of stanchions for the, the Station
cameras. Steve and I will install the special attachment device
onto the Station and then the robotic arm will pick up those ESP-2
-- it’s like a big pallet on the cargo bay -- we’ll
pick it up from the cargo bay and attach it to the special attachment
device which will be mounted on the side of the Station airlock.
else is there on the schedule then for the third spacewalk of this
is the, the last of three EVAs, spacewalks, we have a couple of
small tasks. One is to retrieve the two material science project,
called MISSE. It’s kind of a suitcase that open up to vacuum.
There are two MISSE on the airlock. We will retrieve those two and
bring them back to the ground for the scientists waiting to see
The day after your third spacewalk you all close up the
MPLM. The day after that you undock. The last big event of your
flight, though, the landing, is going to get more attention than
probably any other landing in Space Shuttle history. What are your
thoughts about that part of your flight?
I think by
that time we are fully confident that we don’t have any debris,
we don’t have any damage to the orbiter, we completed all
the tasks, so I think on the landing day we will be fully enjoying
the, the mission and just waiting for Eileen [Collins] to make a
perfect landing at KSC.
I’ve heard it said that STS-114 opens up a new chapter
in space exploration, one that’s going to transform a Vision
for Space Exploration into a reality. What do you think?
right. We are opening new era, and I firmly believe this Return
to Flight is a first step of the new space Vision. We will bring
the Shuttle back to life, and the Shuttle will continue the assembly
of the ISS, and later we continue a journey to, to moon, Mars, and
beyond. But the very first step of this new space Vision is this
Return to Flight.
Of course, building a Space Station just a few hundred miles
above Earth isn’t the ultimate goal of the partner nations
in this project. From the perspective of somebody who’s about
to leave the planet to go there, tell me how you see the International
Space Station helping achieve the Vision and pave the path for future
Space Station is a great test bed for the future missions, both
technically and also philosophically. Technically, we have a lot
of new improvement for humans to stay on orbit for long duration
of time both for habitation and also for the logistics support.
Philosophically Space Station provides a great test case amongst
the international partners to work together and jointly solve the
problems for the big project. If you are going to go to Mars and
beyond, I think international cooperation is really vital to the
success of the big projects, so we can learn it from this ISS projects.
We wouldn’t fly a Space Shuttle mission if we didn’t
have a good reason to, but do you think it’s an exaggeration
to say that STS-114 is critical to the future of the International
Space Station, to our, to our future as explorers of space?
I think every
mission is critical, and STS-114 is also critical to the future
of spaceflight. Our mission actually opens the doors for all the
subsequent flights. In that sense, if we don’t make a successful
flight, there may be no other flights following us, so in that sense,
our mission is very critical to continue our journey to space.